Five things we learned from the SEC basketball openers:
1. Tennessee is gaining steam. Plenty of pre-season prognosticators felt the Volunteers owned the best chance of challenging Kentucky and Florida for SEC supremacy. The Vols struggled through much of the non-conference slate, counting losses to UTEP and North Carolina State at home among their four defeats.
Then Counzo Martin’s club started sinking shots and ripped Virginia 87-52 in Knoxville. It has followed that with a 98-51 skunking of tiny Tusculum and Tuesday night’s impressive 68-50 thumping of LSU in Baton Rouge.
Jordan McRae, the SEC’s leading scorer last season, has turned into a distributor, as well, dishing out five assists in three of his last four games. And Jarnell Stokes was a man in Cajun country Tuesday night, grabbing 15 rebounds in the Tennessee win.
2. Florida keeps getting wins and boo-boos. Scottie Wilbekin has a sprained right ankle. Casey Prather has knee swelling. Chris Walker is still waiting for the NCAA to make up its mind about his eligibility. And Billy Donovan’s team is 12-2 after a 74-58 win over South Carolina on Wednesday.
Dorian Finney-Smith, the transfer from Virginia Tech, had seven and eight rebounds respectively in wins over Savannah State and Richmond, then led the Gators with five assists in the victory over the Gamecocks.
3. Arkansas still can’t win on the road. The Razorbacks were 1-8 in SEC road games last year. This season, after an 11-2 non-conference record and seven straight victories, Mike Anderson’s team traveled to College Station on Wednesday and got thumped by Texas A&M 69-53.
Bobby Portis, who had hit 21 of his 24 shots in Arkansas’ three previous games, was held to just seven points and seven rebounds. He made but three of his 10 shots. Michael Qualls missed 11 of his 12 shots
Fortunately for the Razorbacks, they return home for their next two games. Unfortunately, they play Florida and Kentucky.
4. LSU needs to shake its slump. The Tigers appeared to be making progress after getting off to a 9-2 start. Since then, however, they’ve dropped home games to Rhode Island (74-70) and Tennessee (68-50).
Coach Johnny Jones has promised lineup changes. Point guard Anthony Hickey has made just six of 23 shots over his last three games. He’s just four-of-15 from three-point range.
5. Alabama can build some momentum. After a 6-7 non-conference record against a challenging schedule, Anthony Grant’s club opened league play with a 68-63 win over visiting Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.
With a road game Saturday at Georgia and home game next Wednesday against Mississippi State, Alabama has a chance to be 3-0 in league play when it travels to Missouri on Feb. 18. It plays Florida at home on the 23rd.
Photo of Arkansas coach Mike Anderson by AP.